Have you heard the term pantser before? When it comes to plot structure are you one?
There are all types of writers, but most writers fall into one of the three categories: pantser, plotter, or planster (a combination of the two).
While there's no (necessarily) right or wrong way to approaching structure, writers who fall into their certain type do so with pride.
Today, let's talk about the three types of writers—and learn if you're the kind of writer who writes by the seat of your pants, or someone who takes a general idea and writes pages of background and structure before moving forward.
What is a Pantser?
A pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything in their story, or plan very little.
Freedom is an important value for pantsers. They don't need or want a detailed outline. In fact, their writing style—for a first draft or senior book—is partly about discovering the story as they write it.
They like to get lost in their story. They like to let the main character and their imagination lead them to a surprising finish.
What is a Plotter?
Simply put, a plotter is someone who plans out their novel before they write it. There are various levels of plotters. Regardless, outlining their novel before writing is extremely important to these writers.
In fact, it's essential to the writing process. It's what keeps their story structure in tact, and it is also crucial to have if they want to finish their manuscript.
Plotters value knowing what's going to happen in their story before writing it. They want clarity. A plan gives them energy and intention, and it saves them a lot of time when they do write their book.
Got it! But what is a PLANTSER?
Some people, like me, call themselves “plantsers,” which means they’re in a little of both. In reality, most people are plantsers, but some tend to lean heavily to one side.
A plantser could be someone who—before writing—writes a synopsis and comes up with important details that drive their story ideas. Or they could be the kind of writer that enjoys planning out their subplots and character arcs, but during the writing of the novel, goes rogue for some chunks of the story. They like a taste of writing life on the seat of their pants—but not all of it.
Personally, I think a great plantsing strategy is to look at story arc and outline the big moments in a book. In other words, the elements of plot for the major parts of a book: the beginning, the middle (which has two parts separated by the midpoint), and the end.
You can learn more about the elements of plot in the post, but as a quick recap, here they are:
- Inciting Incident
- Rising Action (which peaks with a Turning Point Progressive Complication)
No matter what type of writing life you prefer, there are pros and cons to each one.
Let’s take a look.
PANTSER Pros and Cons
Pros: Pantsers have the freedom to take their novel in any direction they want. They love the blank page, and thrive on the thrill of the ideas that come as they type. They also have flexibility. They’re not stuck following an outline, so if they don’t like a character, they can simply kill him. If they don’t like the way their plot is going, they can change it.
Cons: However, having no plan, or very little plan, makes it easier to get stuck. And if they get stuck, they have to come up with a way to dig themselves out of writer’s block, rather than following an outline that leads them in the right direction. When this happens, Pantsers often abandon old projects for new ones, leaving multiple unfinished novels in their wake.
Because writing with no direction likely means there will be lots of rewriting, since these types of writers usually take a vague idea and run with it. While fun in the moment, this can lead to lots of plot holes, which means rewriting (a lot of it) is almost guranteed.
In novel writing, too much editing can lead to burnout and manuscript abandonment. And rewriting, although inevitable for every type of writer, is especially steep for a pantser.
PLOTTER Pros and Cons
Pros: Plotters, having planned out their novel ahead of time, know what’s going to happen before they write it. This makes it easier to bust writer’s block. It’s harder to get stuck when you know what’s going to happen next. Plotters also tend to get their novels written faster, or at least more smoothly.
Cons: Plotters are confined to their plans, meaning if they do get stuck or want to change something, they often have to redo their whole outline. And I can tell you from experience, redoing an entire outline is not fun.
If you're a plotter, then you're in luck. We have several great resources for you. Learn more about plotting your best story here:
- A Writer's Cheatsheet to Plot and Structure
- What Is Plot? The 5 Elements of Plot and How to Use Them
- Crisis: Story Grid's Central Plot Point
- Freytag's Pyramid: Definition, Examples, and How to Use This Dramatic Structure In Your Writing
Writers Take Many Forms
All writers tend to fall into one of these types: pantser, plotter, or planster. There are advantages and disadvantages to all types of writing styles—and knowing the type of writer you are will prepare you for what usually holds you back.
Which means self-awareness of you writing preference will make you a better writer.
Because we all become a better writer when we finish (and revise) our books.
What about you? Do you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser? Or are you a little of both? Let us know in the comments.
Need more plot help that's friendly to plotters AND pantsers? After you work on practicing your plotting and pantsing in the exercise section below, check out my new book The Write Structure which helps writers make their plot better and write books readers love. Low price for a limited time!
Whatever type of writer you think you are—plotter or pantser—become the opposite for a little while.
If you’re a pantser, plot out your next scene or chapter for your novel.
If you’re a plotter, abandon your outline and write freely.
Write for fifteen minutes and, if you’d like, post your practice in the comments. Have fun!
The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).